Tag Archives: shrines

Back to Buwaali

There’s one field site where I go quite regularly because I believe the community there is among the most innovative religious communities in the world. Buwaali is named for the disease Kawaali because it is associated with a 19th century smallpox outbreak. Likewise the patron spirit of this place, Jjajja Ndawula, is associated with afflictions of the skin. His drinking gourd has raised bumps, as does his tobacco pipe. I wrote about the overall look and feel of this place in another post. Here I’d like to return to Kakooge village, to the place called Buwaali, and see what has changed.

When I entered the estate where Jjajja Ndawula Community have built there main shrine, I noticed immediately how many cosmetic changes had been made. Inside the newly installed main gate, the grass and landscaping had been totally redone.


The compound interior had not changed significantly, but there was one new spot in the midst of all of the various small shrines dedicated to different spirits: a group of mats lay beneath thick vines held up by a wooden pole frame.

Now the person I came with is a Muslim, and Ramadan was to begin that evening. A man soon came to this new place with his head covered, carrying a Qu’ran, a small ceramic portable fireplace full of burning coals, and waxy incense called kabanni. He sat down along with six or seven other people and began to recite suras as he placed some of the incense on the coals. For the next half hour, he alternated between sura recitation and Luganda prayers to ancestors and other patron spirits. The group grew, and by the end of the half hour prayer session, there were about twenty people seated there and responding to the prayers. Now it’s one thing for a Muslim to pray in a shrine, but quite another for a group to bring Qu’ranic recitation into the shrine space and to build a dedicated space for Islamic prayer.

At the conclusion of these prayers, the group disbursed to their various tasks. No Ramadan feasts tonight; just tea and dinner before the proceedings were to begin. We went into the main shrine, which had also changed significantly since my trip here in 2010. All of the windows had been installed, and the detailed painting around the trim had nearly been finished.


Curtains had been hung on the windows closer to the front of the space, and the group now had some chairs for people on the risers flanking the main nave. The shrine for Kiwanuka now had colorful trim, and the area at the front of the space had matching trim.


The woman prostrate in front of the shrine there is praising Kiwanuka as others look on, attending to the main medium of the place, Jjajja Ndawula.

As on other occasions, dancing and singing went on well into the night. I’m pleased to report that during the meeting that followed, the community agreed to let me deposit video recordings from this shrine in an archive at Makerere University pending their receipt of DVD copies for community viewing.


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Travels with Nakayima, Part 1: Stories of Place

I haven’t posted much lately, and that’s because I have been too busy traveling.  In late February, I attended an annual meeting of Uganda n’eddagala lyayo (Uganda and its medicines), Uganda’s oldest association of traditional healers.  The group entertaining the crowd that day was led by one Nakayima, a singer who has since become my dear friend and close research consultant.  She has been an excellent travel guide for some of Buganda’s historically significant ritual sites.


This weekend, I begin recording some of her vast repertory of ritual songs sans drums and rattles.  That technique has worked well for me before as a means of getting a clear rendering of the song texts, so I am excited to begin.  In the mean time, I hope you enjoy these stories and images from our travels.

These places and their stories live and breathe in oral tradition, but this is a part of the world where people don’t depend on Jan Vansina to tell them that those traditions constitute this region’s historical records.  The characters and themes of those storied places appear in Nakayima’s songs as well.  By taking me to see these places and meet the people who take care of the shrines, she provides me with critical context for understanding her repertory of ritual songs.

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